My Favorite Holiday Treat: Italian Rainbow Cookies

rainbowcookie.jpg
Photo by John Dunne
Why not give Santa what he really wants...
In my family, it's not a holiday without Italian Rainbow Cookies. Made of layered almond sponge cake and jam and finished with a rich chocolate coating, they are one of the best cookies around (just ask any kid ever). They're sweet, nutty, moist, fruity, light and rich all at once. And since the sponge cake is brightly dyed (like a rainbow -- get it?), they make the perfect festive dessert for any holiday.

Here's how to make them:

Ingredients recipe adapted from smitten kitchen

  • 2 ½ sticks butter, softened + more for pan
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 8 oz can almond paste
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • Food coloring (typically red and green, 25 drops each)
  • 6 oz apricot preserves
  • 6 oz raspberry preserves
  • 7 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • Equipment: 13x9x2" baking pan + wax paper

    Directions layer cake needs at least four hours to chill, can be made a day ahead

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees and set rack in center of oven. Line the bottom of the baking pan with wax paper, leaving a 2-inch overhang on the ends. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan.

    Place egg whites in a large mixing bowl and use a mixer to whisk until stiff peaks form. Add in ¼ cup sugar, whisking in slowly to ensure peaks hold.

    In a separate bowl, beat together almond paste and remaining ¾ cup sugar until well blended. Add in 2½ sticks butter and beat until creamy, pale and fluffy. Add yolks and almond extract, beating to combine. Reduce speed to low and slowly incorporate the flour and salt.

    Fold in half the egg whites to lighten the mixture before gently folding in the remaining whites.

    Divide the batter into three bowls and stir in food coloring, dying two and leaving one plain. Refrigerate one of the colored batters and set the plain one aside.

    Spread one of the colored batters into the prepared baking pan. Use a spatula to spread evenly (layer should be about ¼ inch thick). Bake 8-10 minutes until just set. Batter should look slightly undercooked, but an inserted toothpick should come out clean.

    Use the wax paper to gently remove the sponge cake from the pan. Set aside to cool, with wax paper intact.

    Meanwhile, clean the pan and re-line with wax paper and butter. Spread the plain white batter into the pan and bake in the same manner as above. As the white layer bakes, remove the other colored batter from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Repeat the baking process with the final colored layer.

    Let all layers cool for at least 15 minutes before assembling (do not stack layers while cooling, even with parchment paper on -- otherwise the chocolate layer will not adhere properly).

    Meanwhile, heat the fruit preserves over low heat and strain to thicken.

    Line a baking sheet with wax paper and gently invert one of the colored layers (green). Discard wax paper and spread with a layer of apricot preserves. Gently invert the white layer on top, remove paper and spread with raspberry preserves. Top with the other colored layer (red). Remove wax paper and cover the entire cake with plastic wrap.

    Place a large baking pan on top to weigh down and chill for at least four hours before neatly trimming the edges with a long, serrated knife.

    Use a double boiler to melt half the chocolate and spread quickly and evenly over the top of the cake. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate is firm, about 15 minutes.

    Cover with wax paper and invert onto another baking sheet. Melt the other half of the chocolate, remove the wax paper and quickly spread with melted chocolate.

    Freeze for 30 minutes (they cut easier when frozen). Slice into about four strips lengthwise, then cut across to create ¾-inch-wide cookies.

    These cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks and will keep even longer if frozen (but if they make it that long, you're a better person than me).

    Enjoy!



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